An Imminent Beheading

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement Tuesday night urging Saudi Arabia to halt the execution of ‪Ali Mohammed al-Nimr‬ because he was “convicted for a crime reportedly committed as a child.” It is rare that a specific person’s specific case be the subject of such a statement.

The statement reads, “Any judgment imposing the death penalty upon persons who were children at the time of the offence, and their execution, are incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations.” It reminds Saudi Arabia that it is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Because Ali’s trial was conducted unfairly, the UN OHCHR argues, “International law, accepted as binding by Saudi Arabia, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution.” Thus, Ali’s impending execution must be halted and a new trial set up.

It was signed by Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Benyam Mezmur, current Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of Child.

Reliable sources report that Ali is scheduled to be executed by beheading today, September 24, and then his body will be crucified and hoisted up on a pole and displayed to show all who see it what can befall a young man unlucky enough to be born in that barbaric nation in this current, sanguinary period in its history. Ali was arrested at a protest in 2012 when he was 17 years of age; he was charged with many crimes, it seems likely he did not commit any.

The holy day of Eid al-Adha is upon us. In Egypt, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi pardoned two journalists, Mohammed Fahmy, a Canadian, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, along with several dozen other prisoners. Fahmy and Mohamed were released; their colleague, Peter Greste, was deported in February, and he may have been included in the long list of those pardoned today. I wrote about Fahmy’s case last month.

President al-Sisi acted in accordance with a tradition of granting pardons on this most solemn of holy days. Eid commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, out of respect for God’s will; because Isaac was spared thanks to God sending an angel to halt the proceedings out of God’s respect for Abraham’s seriousness of intent, Eid is marked with similar pardons granted by political leaders.

But the willingness to sacrifice a child is sometimes marked by actually murdering the child. That sick possibility is what is perhaps about to befall a young man who walked out on a street on the wrong day to do so in Saudi Arabia.

One of the few elected representatives anywhere who has joined her voice with those outraged at the prospect of a beheading and a crucifixion, and the fact the punishment is for the non-crime of peaceful protest, and the fact the non-offender was arrested while he was a child, and the fact that his trial was not a fair one, is a Member of Parliament named Margaret Ferrier. She is a member of the Scottish National Party and was elected this year in that party’s near sweep of the seats in Scotland.

I had not heard of her until this story began to attract attention, and she is a part of the reason this story has attracted international attention. Her work has not gone unnoticed. I almost want to move to Scotland to vote for her someday. She has spoken in Parliament about Ali, and she wrote this week to Prime Minister David Cameron:

 
(I like the personal touch of writing the salutation by hand.)

She concludes, “If the UK fail to speak out against this medieval sentence, then we surrender our moral authority to condemn similar acts committed by DAESH. I am asking that you follow the French government’s lead and call for the execution to be called off.”

MP Ferrier received a reply today from the Prime Minister’s office: It was a form letter thanking her for letter and informing her that her letter has been forwarded to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Here is what she shared on Twitter:

 
“Deplorable” is right. A couple other words would be correct, as well: “insulting” and “offensive.”

Margaret Ferrier wrote on Facebook,

Thoroughly deplorable response from the Prime Minister’s office to my letter calling for urgent action to be taken in the ‪#‎AliAlNimr‬ case. Despite the fact that the Foreign Office have already ignored me for a full week, they are passing my letter, addressed to David Cameron, to the Foreign Office.
Ali could be executed at any time. This young man’s life is about to be cut dramatically short, in the most barbaric manner. Yet the UK Government seem happy to look the other way.
The UK Government’s commercial pursuits are being put before Saudi human rights. The blind eye that we officially turn to Saudi Arabia’s dreadful denial of human rights only serves to support their savage and sadistic regime.

 
Diplomatic language is often disappointing in its very nature. In this country, when an official speaks of the regime ruling Saudi Arabia, the official prefaces everything with a refresher course about how the regime is our “ally,” and then proceeds to use boilerplate phrases about our “friendship” and “open discussions” regarding “mutual interests” including “human rights.” Yes, but a young man is about to be beheaded and then (then!) crucified.

* * * *
What follows is an edited repeat of my column from earlier this week, to include the background.

No one knows when or where—and it is possible that by the time you read this, the punishment will have been carried out today—but sometime soon, now that it has been learned that an appeal was denied, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr will be beheaded and then his remains will be mounted on two boards and put on display. In his country, this practice is known as “crucifixion.”

It is not a common means of treating a prisoner who has been sentenced to death in his home country. Beheading someone and then displaying the body is reserved only for those who have committed the most heinous of crimes, like show up at a protest.

Saudi Arabia has beheaded more than 100 individuals in 2015 and is set to more than double its 1995 record of 192 beheadings. (The nation does not execute via lethal injection or even hanging, and it does not conduct the punishments in private; it has executioners who do the terrible work in public.) It is a particularly blood-thirsty moment in its history. The crimes for which one is to be punished with death in Saudi Arabia are believed to include adultery, armed robbery, apostasy, drug smuggling, kidnapping, rape, witchcraft, and sorcery. As Amnesty International reminds us, “Some of these so-called offences, such as apostasy, should not even be criminalized under international standards. (Apostasy is also a crime for which Raif Badawi was tried and not convicted.)

As a citizen of the United States, I am aware that I have no say in the legal system or traditions of another country’s bureaucracy; I can only write this column to implore my government to at least say something to one of its allies in the name of human rights. Further, this has nothing to do with one particular religion or religion as an idea at all; all of the great faiths preach love and peace, but every single nation that has ever chosen to be a theocracy, whether Christian, Islamic, or Other, shares this bloody lust for denying human rights in its history.

The most recent “crucifixions” took place in 2013 according to Amnesty International, when five men were executed and then were “‘crucified’ in front of the University of Jizan where students were taking exams.” Nice reminder for the students to do well, that.

No one knows quite what exactly these five poor men did. What did Ali do? First, he was born to the wrong family. He is a nephew of a “Sheikh Nimr, a reformist cleric who has repeatedly called for an end to corruption and discrimination against minorities, who has also been sentenced to death.” Second, he showed up at a protest. According to Reprieve, a human rights organization in the United Kingdom, Ali was arrested in 2012, when he was 17. Among the charges against him: “explaining how to give first aid to protestors” and using his cell phone to invite others to join him at the protest. There were others, like carrying a firearm, attacking security forces and armed robbery. He was not armed, but this matters little as he signed a confession, which Reprieve labels as “false.” It is assumed by human rights organizations that he was tortured.

Tortured or not, and I certainly believe he was, he was held for more than two years in “pre-trial detention,” was denied access to the evidence against him, “was not even informed of the charges until half way through the proceedings, when his forced confession was the only evidence brought against him.” Further, his final appeal was held in secret, without his knowledge.

Margaret Ferrier, a Member of Parliament from Scotland, is one of the few people to speak on the record about this particular case. In Parliament, she said, “How in 2015 can a supposedly civilized country impose such an inhumane and merciless penalty on any of its citizens, let alone one so young? It’s an absolute outrage and I intend to write to the minister and ask for urgent action to be taken. Ali’s sentence is due to be barbarically carried out by crucifixion. I feel for this young man and his family. Reading Ali’s story this morning filled me with grief for his life about to be savagely and abruptly ended.”

 
Here is a petition one can sign: Reprieve. If you are a British citizen, Reprieve also asks that you write to Michael Gove of the Ministry of Justice, because “the British Ministry of Justice is bidding to provide support to the Saudi prisons service” in the near future.

Amnesty International reported Ali’s story in 2014: ALI MOHAMMED BAQIR AL-NIMR.

There are a lot of stories of human rights being denied or innocent people being executed, including in America, my own nation, and there is a refugee crisis growin larger each day in Europe; Ali’s terrifying story is only one story. He is 21 years old now, and that life is about to become one more example of official state cruelty, unless he is spared.

* * * *
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